Spinal Injuries in Pedestrians Struck by Motor Vehicles

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Study Design

Retrospective study of consecutive patients that were struck by motor vehicles and sustained spinal injuries over a 6-year period from 1997 to 2003.


To determine spinal injury patterns and associated injuries in pedestrians struck by motor vehicles.

Summary of Background Data

Motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians are associated with high morbidity and mortality rates.


All injured patients admitted to Level I Trauma and Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center were reviewed retrospectively to identify those who were struck by motor vehicles and sustained injury to the spinal column. Before 2001, clearance of the thoracolumbar (TL) spine was performed by plain radiographs. Beginning in 2001, such clearance was performed by helical truncal computed tomography of the chest/abdomen/pelvis (CT/CAP) that was performed to evaluate potential visceral injuries.


Of the 1672 patients who were struck by motor vehicles, 135 patients (8%) were found to have spinal injuries. Cervical injuries were found in 35%, thoracic in 19%, lumbar in 37%, and sacral injuries in 27%. Associated injuries were present in 99% of the patients. By relative risk analyses, there were no regional associations between injuries of the TL spine and injuries to the chest and abdomen. Patients frequently had combinations of injuries in distant locations, presumably from a “double-impact” injury mechanism. Before initiation of the CT/CAP protocol to clear the TL spine, 7% of patients had injuries initially missed by TL radiographs.


Spinal injuries in pedestrians struck by motor vehicles are more evenly distributed throughout the spinal column and more often coexist with injuries to remote organs compared with car occupants and motorcyclists where regional tendencies and isolated spinal injuries are more frequent. A systematic approach to both diagnosis and treatment is, therefore, necessary. Helical truncal CT, performed to evaluate visceral injury, effectively screens for TL fractures.

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